Penguins: Comrie hunts for scoring touch
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The Penguins figured Mike Comrie was a low-risk, high-reward addition when they signed him as a free agent in early September.
He was a proven point-producer who agreed to join them for the league minimum because, he said, he was more interested in earning a Stanley Cup ring than in maximizing his income.
And, as the start of the regular season approached, Comrie looked as if he would be everything the Penguins had dared to hope for. And maybe more.
He had seemed to develop a nice chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, flashed some soft hands and lived up to his reputation for playing with an edge.
The Penguins, it appeared, had gotten a legitimate top-six forward for bottom-of-the-depth-chart money.
And perhaps they have, because it still is too early in the season to pass judgment -- negative or otherwise -- on anyone, especially a guy in his first year with a team.
Game: Penguins at Nashville Predators, 8:08 p.m. today, Bridgestone Arena.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Pekka Rinne for Predators.
Penguins: Have all-time record of 1-6 in Nashville, with six consecutive losses there. ... D Kris Letang ranks among NHL leaders with plus-minus rating of plus-7. ... Are allowing average of 26.7 shots per game, fifth-lowest total in league.
Predators: Will be closing out four-game homestand, during which they are 1-0-2. ... D Shea Weber is tied for eighth in NHL with 14 blocked shots. ... Are second-least penalized team in league, averaging 9.6 minutes per game.
Of note: Predators, Toronto are only teams without a loss in regulation.
But going into the Penguins' game tonight at Nashville, Comrie has put up just three points, all assists, during the regular season and already has been a healthy scratch once because of ineffective play.
"He's a production guy and, if you don't see numbers on the board, that's the part he's supposed to bring, so you wonder what's going on," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who works with the forwards.
Comrie is, however, coming off the most-productive evening of his young Penguins career, having put up two assists in a 5-2 victory Monday against Ottawa, and all concerned hope that can be the game that triggers more consistent production from him.
"I think it helps, for confidence," Comrie said. "I've had a few chances. ... Sid [Crosby] and [Malkin] are always going to get their goals. If we can all chip in, it takes some pressure off those guys.
"For whatever reason, the first few games, I kind of fought the puck a little bit. Sometimes, you just need a bounce. Hockey players are sometimes streaky with goals."
Comrie, 30, scored 30 goals as recently as 2005-06, when he was with Phoenix, and had 13 in just 43 games with Edmonton last season.
He has a reputation for streak-scoring, and since it's unlikely that he'll add consistency to his repertoire at this stage of his career, the Penguins likely could live with his goals coming in bunches. The issue, at least for now, is getting them to come at all.
"He's a good, veteran player [who is] still, through the learning process, trying to adjust to his teammates and linemates and what we're trying to do here," Granato said.
"There's still big upside to what he can do for our team, and that's what we're counting on."
That's not empty rhetoric. The coaches were unhappy enough with Comrie that they kept him in street clothes for a 4-3 loss to Toronto Oct. 13, but he continues to fill a prominent role.
He has been a regular on the second line -- Malkin and (Mark) Letestu have been his linemates lately -- and the No. 2 power-play unit. While the pool of candidates to fill those roles is somewhat limited, the coaches clearly believe Comrie can make a positive difference.
"Potentially, he could do some good things for us," Granato said. "In training camp, he added some things we needed in the lineup."
Indeed, in the preseason, Comrie often played at a level that suggested his signing only could be enough to make general manager Ray Shero a serious contender for NHL Executive of the Year. He had a team-high four goals and one assist in four exhibition appearances.
"In training camp, he came in here and had to prove he had value to our team," Granato said. "He did that and made our team and added something that we really needed. We still believe he is capable of things that can help us along the way, and production is one of them."
Comrie is one of just three Penguins forwards with a negative plus-minus rating; he, Mike Rupp and Eric Tangradi all are minus-1.
That statistic can be misleading, but the coaching staff clearly is counting on Comrie to work at both ends of the ice as well as showing up regularly on the score sheet.
"He just has to make sure that, when he goes through stretches, goes through points of the season where points aren't adding up on the board, that you do things right away from the puck," Granato said.
"He's getting better away from the puck, he's getting better at understanding what his responsibilities are, from that side of things. That part's been good."
Soon, the Penguins hope, the part of Comrie's game that got him a job here in the first place will be, too.
First Published October 21, 2010 12:00 am